Volume. XXX, No. 19
Sunday, 08 November 2015

From the Pastors Heart: Literature and Our Faith

The book, Treasure Island, made Robert Louis Stevenson [RLS] rise to fame in 1881.  Readers of this book may think of its author as an interesting, adventurous, and carefree story teller, but his inner and private life would betray such expectations.  His health went downhill, and he suffered recurring depressions which could not be helped even by alcohol.  When his doctor warned him of his health condition, he wrote of himself to his friend: “Of that lean, feverish, voluble and whiskyfied young Scot, who once sparked through France and Britain, bent on art and the pleasures of the flesh, there now remains no quality but the strong language.  That, at least, I shall take gravewards: my last word, it’s like, will be an excretion.”

His father was ever gracious to him even by granting him annual allowances and a house.  RLS came back to see his father when he heard of his grave illness, but it was too late and his father could not recognize him anymore.  His father had left a small letter to be read at his graveside.  The weather on the funeral day was bad, and RLS was so concerned about his own health and left the service without hearing his father’s last words.  A year later he died suddenly.  To him, life was only a “pilgrimage from nothing to nowhere.”  With all of his mischievous and rebellious life against God, we all will be surprised to know that he was able to recite the Shorter Catechism by heart.  The following is the words that his father, Thomas wanted to be heard at his own funeral: “May I be allowed to say very humbly - God knows how humbly – that, believing in Christ, I confidently trust I shall not be disowned by Him when the last trumpet shall sound.  My good friends! I hope our friendship is not ended, but only for a time interrupted, and that we may all meet again in that better land which has been prepared for us by our Father and our Saviour, the blessed passport to which has been freely offered to all.  Amen.”

If I take a little bit of sidetrack, I would like to know the reason why RLS turned himself so much against God.  According to his own words, it was the character of Christians who were joyless and spent grim Sundays.  It is true that not all of his explanations are convincing, because his own words are contradictory.  It is also true that he said so many harsh words against Christians in order to defend his own unbelieving stand and lifestyle.  Having said that, there may be still a grain of thoughts we, Christians, need to ponder on.  There are many people without Christian faith excusing themselves for their unbelief or rebellion by blaming unedifying, uncharitable, unkind, and uncaring Christians, including disharmonious homes, harsh fathers, bigot mothers, pretentious neighbors, hypocritical church leaders, worldly Christians, and immorality in the church.

RLS and Edmund Gosse were good friends.  Both had a godly upbringing at home.  However, they often talked about their unfortunate childhoods.  Edmund’s father, Philip Henry Gosse, was a spiritual and caring father.  However, Edmund did not think so.  He wrote about his father as a man of morbid conscience.  Philip Gosse made a similar appeal to his son as Thomas did to his son RLS.  Philip wrote to him, “You say that you have a right to think for yourself . . . Of course . . . but have I not a right to counsel, to suggest, to entreat if I see you choosing fatal error . . . Have I not a right to grieve?” (Ann Thwaite, Glimpses of the Wonderful: The Life of Philip Henry Gosse 1810-1888, London: Faber, 2002, 276-7).

Now I come to talk about RLS’s father, Thomas’ view of the reason of his son’s changes.  Probably, his thoughts are very helpful to all of us who are concerned about our children’s spiritual welfare.  I’ll quote from Iain Murray’s book directly: “Thomas Stevenson had a different understanding of the change in his son.  He put it down to the authors he read and the company he kept.  The particular writer that damages Louis, he believed, was Herbert Spencer, who had applied the theory of evolution to religion and philosophy.  According to this thinking, man is not fallen from an original perfection: rather he is advancing towards it.  Certainly RLS acknowledged, ‘I came under the influence of Herbert Spencer.  No matter persuasive rabbi exists, and few better’” (p. 23).  Thus, books and authors did influence on him.  However, we cannot neglect another factor of his changes, i.e., his companions.  RLS years later wrote to one of his friends, Charles Baxter, “heartless drunken young dogs we were.”

Thomas Stevenson did not blame others for his son’s changes, but he carried inner pain till he died.  Hennessy says that “RLS would ‘agonize over what he was making his parents suffer . . . but he would re-assure himself that it was their rigid minds and their bourgeois attitudes that were causative and fundamentally to blame.’  As late as 1885 Thomas Stevenson was still supporting his son financially.  ‘It is fortunate for me I have a father,’ RLS wrote that year, ‘or I should long ago have died” (Murray, 24).  RLS also wrote to Fanny Sitwell about what his father said to him in September 1873: “A poor end for all my tenderness . . . I have made all my life to suit you – I have worked for you and gone  out of my way for you – and the end of it is that I find you in opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ – I find everything gone – I would ten times sooner have seen you lying in your grave than that you should be shaking the faith of other young men” (Letters (Yale), vol.1, p. 312; cited in Iain Murray, The Undercover Revolution, 24).

I found an obituary by the New York Times for the death of RLS on December 18, 1894.  There is a brief sketch of his life of 43 years.  The following is an excerpt from the obituary: “Robert Louis Stevenson's full name was Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, but the Balfour he had ceased to use. He was a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the date of his birth was Nov. 13, 1850. His father, Thomas Stevenson, had eminence in connection with lighthouses. For many years Thomas Stevenson was an Inspector of Lighthouses, and retained his activity in that office until near the time of his death, in 1888. . . . When he died his son wrote a sketch of his life, and one of his son's books was dedicated to him, ‘by whose devices the great sea lights in every quarter of the globe shine out more brightly.’  Thomas Stevenson, like most Scotchmen, had dabbled in theology. In 1877 he brought out "Christianity Confirmed by Jewish and Heathen Testimony, and the Deductions from Physical Science." The work went into a second edition in the following year.   Of his Scotch origin Louis Stevenson was always proud. He has said in one of his books that to be born a Scotchman is ‘the happiest lot on earth.’  But it was a privilege one must pay for. ‘You have to learn,’ he said, ‘the paraphrases and the Shorter Catechism.’ . . .”

G. K. Chesterton noted that “Stevenson was born of a Puritan tradition, in a Presbyterian country where still rolled the echoes…of the theological thunders of [John] Knox.”  Calvinism, Catechism, Covenanters, and “Cummy” (RLS’s nursemaid Alise Cunningham) - these are the most formidable factors of formation in the little Robert Louis (or “Smout” as he was affectionately called. It meant “small fry”).  RLS’s maternal grandfather - the boy’s namesake - was a Church of Scotland minister whose parish was a few miles from Edinburgh.  RLS’s favorite childhood game was to pretend that he was a church minister and to preach from a makeshift pulpit (written by James Townsend in http://faithalone.org/journal/1999i/J22-99e.htm).  RLS was a theologically precocious child!  Hunter Davies reported, “Cummy had read him the Bible, from start to finish, three times before he himself could read.”  How sad a story we have learned about RLS!

Your Pastor

More Lively Hope



Kitchen Roster -  Helpers today: Bro Benjamin Wong; & Sisters Ashley Chia & Amanda Kheng. Next Lord’s Day: Bros Daniel Ki & Daniel Volvricht; & Sis Clara Ki. Please see Sis Megan Lim if you have any questions.
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*Please note: AFG Pot-bless Dinner has been cancelled. AFG Meeting will start at 4pm. “Dropbox” is a documentary about a South Korean pastor who devotes his life to saving abandoned babies.
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Praise & Thanksgiving
Journey mercies: Deaconesses Joyce Gong (Berlin) & Purdee Yeo (Adl); & others arriving safely at their destinations.
Church activities in the past week.
Visitors & new worshippers.
God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.
Better than expected weather in the last few days.

Prayer Items
Health & God’s healing - Pastor Ki; Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev Patrick Tan (S’pore); Rev Edward & Sis Lehia Paauwe; & others in affliction.
Special Prayer: Rev George van Buuren (heart failure)
iSketch & Tell Ministry: Pr Hai Seng Lim’s ministry in Melbourne.
IBPFM: Board members & missionaries all over the world.
New Life BPC (London) - Dr Carl Martin; God’s guidance & encouragement for congregation.
Providence B-P Church, Mawson Lakes - Ps David & Sis Susan Weng, & congregation.
Youth & Assistant Pastor for Hope B-P Church.
Journey mercies: Those who are travelling.
Good health in pregnancy: Sis Isabelle Ng.
Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.
Jobs: Those seeking for jobs in Adelaide.
Persecuted believers in Islamic countries.
God’s guidance & provision of new church property for worship, office & fellowship activities.
Australia: God’s wisdom for our political leaders. People to repent and turn to God.



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